The best way to protect your copyright as a photographer
While writing about copyright and photography over the last year, I hopefully have been able to provide you with some deeper insight on how copyright laws work and how you as a photographer can protect yourself. One of the added bonuses for me during this time has been the knowledge that I have gained while doing my research. I’m grateful for the assistance of several associations like the ASMP and the Copyright Alliance to name just two.
One of the best discoveries I made this year while doing my research on copyright, was a company called ImageRights International. I promised that I’d share some strong solutions for photographers who are interested in being proactive about protecting their copyright. ImageRights offers exactly the services that we as photographers need. They have three plans that cater to advanced amateur photographers, pros and even photo agencies.
Why am I so eager to share this with you? Simply because I believe in educating other photographers about copyright, how it works, and how to protect your images that you work so hard on. Music, movies, and photography have all gone digital and with that fact comes the sad reality that many people believe that these forms of art should be free. While no one would walk into an art gallery, music store, or magazine store to steal things, it seems like for far too many people this is quite ok to do online.
It is a daunting task for photographers to consistently register their copyright with the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress, try to find people or companies that are stealing your images and using them online, and then actually pursue the matter legally. It seems like a lot of work, and the truth is that it is a lot of work. That is why so many of us don’t bother.
This is where ImageRights comes into the picture (pun intended).
I thought that instead of me telling you about what ImageRights can do for you as a photographer, I’d ask Joe Naylor, ImageRights’ CEO to answer the questions that I thought photographers would like answered about what services ImageRights offers and what the advantages are of working with ImageRights as opposed to doing it all yourself. I think you’ll find it interesting to hear about some of the legal battles that Joe has seen in his time with Images Rights and how they helped photographers win their cases against copyright violators.
Some of the advantages of having a company like ImageRights behind you is the power in numbers. While it may be difficult to get anyone to take you seriously for a copyright violation that would earn you a few hundred or even few thousand dollars in a settlement, ImageRights represents thousands of photographers. With those numbers, they are able to have lawyers treat them as a big client, even on smaller cases.
Infringers often ignore a photographer who is making a claim against them since they know that the legal fees alone would be more than any settlement the photographer could hope to get. With ImageRights representing a photographer, this problem is solved. They have a global network of copyright attorneys that enable their photographers to effectively pursue infringers in countries in which they would otherwise not be able to do so. In most cases, ImageRights will try to negotiate a settlement directly with the infringer; however, based on the specifics of the case, ImageRights will pass the case directly to the appropriate firm. And for certain cases in which ImageRights is not able to successfully settle a claim directly, they have the option to pass that case along to the appropriate partner firm in order to run it through the full legal process.
I learned a whole lot from speaking to Joe about copyright and if you’re an amateur or professional photographer I know you’ll enjoy hearing what he has to say.
What are the services that ImageRights provides to photographers?
ImageRights exists to recover compensation for photographers for the unlicensed use of their work. Rights holders either submit claims of infringement directly to us, or they identify infringing uses on their ImageRights Discovery reports.
Whether through our highly scalable automated web crawlers and image recognition technology or by assigning members of Discovery research team to manually scan sites with a specific objective in mind, we have one overriding mission when searching – to identify uses of our photographers’ work and collect payment on those uses identified by our photographers as infringements of their copyright.
Unfortunately, discovering unauthorized uses of their copyrighted images is not all that difficult; it’s the follow up with the infringing sites that can create an intolerable drain on their time and resources. Our ImageRights Recovery service has been designed to take on this burden for photographers and agencies in order to make the pursuit of these actions as painless and expedient as possible.
In constructing our service, our goal was to eliminate those barriers that most often deter photographers from pursuing copyright infringement claims:
- COST – ImageRights will take on a case for little or no fee.
- TIME & RESOURCES – ImageRights manages infringement claims for rights holders, as well as searches for additional unlicensed uses.
- LEGAL REPRESENTATION – ImageRights provides access to its global network of copyright attorneys.
- NEGOTIATING LEVERAGE – ImageRights leverages its expertise, scale & legal network to pave the way for speedier, higher-value settlements.
To maximize ImageRights’ ability to recover settlement fees on infringements in the United States, it’s important that rights holders register their work with the U.S. Copyright Office. This should be part of every photographer’s workflow. However, according to some surveys, less than 3% of professional photographers actually register their work, which can costs them recourse for statutory damages and attorney’s fees when pursuing US-based infringers. The main barriers to filing are time and confusion when it comes to completing the registration forms. That’s why ImageRights offers USCO registration services to its photographers and agencies, as it is paramount to do so in the fight against copyright infringement.
Importantly, registration with the US Copyright Office is not just for US citizens; it equally benefits rights holders from around the globe in their fight against infringers in the US.
You can find more details on our ImageRights service offerings on our service plans page.
Who should consider using ImageRights?
We work primarily with professional photographers and photo agencies. Their business is photography and in this business, you have to be online to market and distribute your work. Then with time and distribution, infringements will follow.
That said, we have had a number of photographers who have come to us with one photo of theirs that had been stolen hundreds of times because the nature of the subject matter rendered the image ideal for certain widespread uses.
For example, that iconic photo of a global rock legend, that has gone viral (through rampant infringement), and then is illegally copied and displayed on innumerable websites every time he goes back out on tour.
Or that perfect photo of a glass of wine that restaurants, wineries and B&B’s just can’t seem to keep their hands off of.
The value of the images is relevant for what we do. We have certain guidelines on the fees we try to recover; but if the photo is available all over the web through iStockphoto and other sites for a $10 RF license, then we’re not going to be able to provide any value.
And while there are certain accounts of ours that may have exclusive RF collections that we can recover on; we primarily work with RM content, as ImageRights won’t pursue a site unless the photographers or agency can positively verify that there is not a license in place for that use.
I also want to strongly emphasize that we work with photographers all over the globe. We pursue infringements for Germans against infringers in the US just as effectively as we can pursue infringers in France for our US accounts.
And as ImageRights and other photography groups have spread the word abroad about registering works in the United States, there has been fast-growing interest by our non-US accounts in having us register their images with the USCO. In fact, the majority of the registrations we do now are for non-US citizens.
What are the advantages of authorizing ImageRights to register our image copyright with the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress? What happens if I don’t register my copyright?
The #1 advantage is that you are taking photos and licensing your work instead of sitting in front of the eCO website filling out the online filing form. Anyone can pay the $35 and work through the form; it’s just a question of whether that is the best use of their valuable time.
Also, there is soooo much misinformation out there about registering images with the USCO that most photographers throw their hands up and say – screw it! The ASMP’s Copyright Tutorial is the best resource, in our opinion, for those who want to submit their own filings.
But even after reading all of the available information, photographers are often not quite 100% sure about the nuances of copyright law. For example, they’re not quite sure whether their images are “Published” or “Unpublished” in the eyes of copyright law. Or they don’t quite understand what images can be grouped in a single filing, etc. We’ve been through these issues time and again and know what needs to be done to submit the filing quickly, accurately, and cost-effectively for the rights holders.
We also have a very good relationship with John Ashley and the other folks on his team at the LOC’s Division of Visual Arts. John and his whole team have been very responsive and incredibly helpful when we hit them up with questions concerning the filing process.
At the end of the day though, the most important thing is that photographers register their images, whether they do it themselves, have us do it or have someone else do it. Every commercial photographer should make registration a part of their workflow, and if possible, do so prior to publication.
If you don’t register your images with the USCO, then you don’t have recourse to statutory damages and attorney’s fees, which are critical leverage when confronting and/or negotiating with US-based infringers of your work. You can still seek actual damages, but it is that uncertainty around what a court might award the rights holder for statutory damages on a specific claim and the risk of having to pay opposing counsel’s legal fees – that will help force the infringer to the negotiating table before the case ever goes to trial.
If someone hires me to take a photo and I have no contract with them, who owns the copyright of the photos?
Generally speaking, unless the person who paid you had you sign a work for hire or some other agreement in which you explicitly handed over your copyrights rights in the work to them, then you are the copyright rights holder. That said, our friends at the ASMP are far more versed in this area than we are, so we would recommend reading what they have posted at http://asmp.org/links/8
Also, John Harrington’s blog is a great resource for this and other contract issues http://www.johnharrington.com/.
Please note that this information is for US law only. If you are Canadian (like me) or a resident of any other country other than the United States please consult a copyright attorney or your local chapter of your country’s professional photographer’s association.—KK
Does ImageRights only work with American photographers?
Not at all, we have commercial photographers and agencies from all corners of the globe. You don’t have to be an American to pursue infringement of your copyright rights in the US. More generally, you don’t have to be a citizen of the country in which you have been infringed to pursue an infringement there.
How do you search for copyright violators online?
Every reasonable means available to us, whether through our highly scalable automated web crawlers and image recognition technology or by manually (i.e. with a human) searching sites with a specific purpose in mind.
What are the advantages of using ImageRights over a free service like TinEye?
ImageRights and Ideé (operator of the TinEye service) are in completely different businesses. They are indexing images on the web and you can upload an image at a time or pay to upload batches of images to do a one-time search against the billions of webpages they have indexed.
ImageRights works with copyright holders to recover compensation from those who use their works without authorization. We have helped a number of photographers recover compensation from infringers who were found through the photographer’s use of TinEye. Since the summer of 2011, we have seen a tremendous surge in the number of infringements submitted directly to us by photographers who are using Google Image Search to find their images being used online. In fact, more than 70% of the recovery cases we have taken on have been submitted directly to us.
When focusing on the search aspects of our respective businesses, our objective with the Discovery service is entirely different from that of the TinEye service. Our Discovery service is simply a lead generator for the Recovery service; so ImageRights is trying to identify websites that are likely users of our customers’ content and that are operated by a person or entity from whom we are more likely to successfully recover monetary compensation.
What professional organizations and associations is ImageRights a member of?
Since our founding in 2008, we have been supporters of or partners with the APA, ASMP, PACA, CEPIC, the Lucy Foundation, the YPA and others.
How accurate is your searching online? Can you detect images that have graphics, or text added to them? What about composite images or altered images?
The image recognition technology, which we license from LTU Technologies, is second to none that we have seen on the market. We can identify matches when the images have been scaled, cropped, rotated, had the colors manipulated, had parts of the image embedded into another image, and on and on.
But I have to say that 99% of the time, the image was stolen and posted straight up, without any alteration, aside from maybe resizing.
What do I as a photographer have to do before submitting images to ImageRights? Do I need to add any IPTC information, keywords, or metadata?
Our Discovery service is not dependent on anything other than the pixels. So while we retain any metadata that may be uploaded along with the images, we don’t actively use or need it. We’re doing purely visual comparisons. So the photographers don’t need to do any prep work prior to submitting their images to us.
We do however recommend that photographers resize their images to the “Small” if they use an image resizer utility to simply speed up the upload of their images to our service.
What are the specs of the image files that ImageRights requires us to upload? Are these specs different from the specs that the Copyright Office requires?
We resize everything to 512 pixels wide prior to processing the images. We don’t need the large, high-res images. The USCO doesn’t need hi-res images either, so we are similar in that regard. In fact, as a standard course of action, we resize all image files to Small and then zip them prior to uploading them as the deposit copies on a USCO registration filing.
What can ImageRights do when they find someone violating our copyright online? What are the steps taken to help correct the situation?
When ImageRights identifies a use of one of our customer’s images online, we notify them by email. If, after checking their sales records, they can confirm that the use is unlicensed, then someone from our Recovery team will vet the case to determine whether or not we believe that we have a reasonable chance of recovering compensation for the rights holder.
The following minimum information is required for us to pursue the case:
- The infringing URL(s)
- A copy of your image, preferably resized to a small jpeg, and its official name if applicable
- Pricing details for the infringing use had it been licensed properly
- Any screenshots that you have taken
- Copyright registration status and details if applicable
- Details of any prior communication/license with the infringer if applicable
- How you found the infringement
Depending on the circumstances of the claim, we will either contact the infringers directly to negotiate a settlement, or we will pass the claim to one of our legal partners.
ImageRights recovery operations currently include a fast-growing network of legal partners from the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, Spain, Switzerland and Israel.
To submit a claim directly to ImageRights Recovery, simply email the information sought in these seven questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What happens if the website that is using one of my images is on a server outside the United States or owned by a non-US based company or person?
In vetting the claim, we research the infringer to identify who is ultimately operating the website. Then based on where they are physically located, we make a call on whether we can pursue recovery or not.
What are the most ridiculous statements that you have heard from copyright violators when you confronted them with infringements?
- “I found it on the net so it’s public domain.”
- “We pay our photographers $20 an image. So we’ll pay you $50.” (How magnanimous!).
- “Why should I pay $1,000 for your photo when I can license images for 10 cents anywhere on the web?”
- “How can you claim our use of your images has destroyed their value when everyone else is using (i.e. infringing) them too.”
- “I am willing to go in front of the Judge if I have to in order to prove that this was not done intentionally and we expressed our regrets to the photographer but she continued to harass us.” (It’s amazing how often infringers portray themselves as the victims when they are confronted by photographers about payment for the use of their work).
- “I just write a little blog and grab some pictures off other blogs that got them from other blogs.” (Response from LA-based fashion consultant and owner of retail clothing store. Her “little blog” was the website for the retail store).
- “Let me remind you that we are talking about a picture of flip flops…” (ok, so pictures of flip flops don’t count???)
- “My (web designer, intern, student, former employee, my son, my dog, my cat …) used the image and didn’t know it was copyrighted.” (We’ve heard it all).
- That photo is not on my website. – Yes, it is. It’s on there right now. Look at it. – I’m not going to look at it. That picture is not on my site. – But it is. – No it’s not. – What the F@#$??!!! (ok, we just thought that last line).
- “There’s only one infringement because it’s just one article.” (Response to our claim that there were 5 infringements, as the site had posted 5 unlicensed images along with the one article. And this response came from their IP attorney, who also happens to edit her law firm’s blog on copyright related issues. Yikes!)
Does ImageRights work with photographers who use Creative Commons licenses?
We have, though it’s not all that common (no pun intended ;). We’re really focused on unlicensed uses and therefore pursuing copyright infringement claims.
If a photographer makes their work available through a CC license and then finds someone using it, for example, for commercial purposes and the CCL didn’t provide for that use, then we have been able to negotiate settlements.
What are the mistakes photographers make when trying to chase down infringers themselves?
They get way too emotional. They disclose information that makes the case more difficult to settle later, or at a minimum may undermine our ability to recover a higher settlement fee.
I personally can’t fault them for this. It’s really hard for us not to get emotional when dealing with these infringers and we didn’t even take the picture. Their attitudes and excuses can really be maddening at times.
I’d like to thank Joe for taking the time to share so much information here on my blog. I hope you found this information useful.
You can find more information about ImageRights on their Website.